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Japan Looks at Dozens of New Geothermal Power Plants

In the aftermath of the 11 March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis, the then ruling Democratic Party of Japan took all of the country's 54 nuclear reactors offline before subsequently restarting two NPP reactors at the Oi nuclear power facility in Fukui Prefecture.

Nevertheless, not unexpectedly, resistance to nuclear power generation nearly three years after the Fukushima Daiichi debacle, which shut down six reactors, remains quite substantial.
 
Accordingly, seeking alternative power sources has increased, with the result that construction plans for mid-sized geothermal plants is becoming a boom energy concern across Japan in the wake of the 2011 “Great East Japan Earthquake” that effectively destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi six nuclear reactor complex.

As a significant milestone on Japan’s increasing diversification of energy sources, in April Chuo Electric Power Co. will open a new geothermal plant in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan’s first geothermal power plant opened since 1999.

The move towards renewables by the world’s third largest economy is not insignificant.

Related article: Iceland Taps Magma for 24/7 Geothermal Energy Source

Regarding Japan’s ongoing power issues the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration noted in its most recent country analysis brief, “Japan is the world's largest liquefied natural gas importer, second largest coal importer… the third largest global net oil importer, is highly dependent on the Middle East for the majority of its supply. It is seeking to diversify its supply sources in Russia, Southeast Asia, and West Africa… Japan relies on LNG imports for virtually all of its natural gas demand… Japan consumed about 37% of global LNG in 2012, as the Fukushima disaster spurred greater demand for LNG in the power sector since 2011. ”

As Japan was the world's third largest producer of nuclear power after the United States and France before the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, where to go from here with indigenous power reserves, as opposed to ramping up hydrocarbon imports?

Accordingly, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has targeted 20 sites across the country for potential geothermal power generation.
And Japan’s incipient geothermal power lobby has some longstanding friends.

During a 5 December 2012 speech at the United Nations University in Tokyo, Iceland’s ambassador to Japan, Stefan Larus Stefansson, gave an upbeat assessment of Japan’s enormous untapped geothermal potential, citing Iceland’s 85-year history of success in this area as a model, telling his audience that  66 percent of Iceland’s primary energy comes from geothermal resources and in contrast, despite having the world’s third-largest potential for geothermal energy, Japan built its last geothermal energy plant in 1999, and all research funding from the government ceased in 2003, while nearly all geothermal turbines in Iceland were constructed in Japan.

Three Japanese industrial concerns - Toshiba, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Fuji Electric have a combined total of over half the world market for geothermal turbines, even though currently geothermal power accounts for a mere 0.3 percent of Japan’s total electricity production.

Related article: Hawaii Embraces Geothermal – Cautiously

But Stefansson’s relentless advocacy of geothermal power for Japan may have yet an ace up his sleeve. When in August 2012 Stefansson presented his ambassador credentials to Japanese Emperor Akihito, the monarch expressed great interest in the role of Japan related to global warming, querying Stefansson about Iceland’s geothermal energy industry before asking about trade relations between Iceland and Japan.

While the initial kilowatt-hour price of geothermal remains higher than hydrocarbon-based power generation, Japan remains an indigenous power source costing out eventual kilowatt hours after factoring out start-up costs. And, unlike most other renewable energy sources, like hydroelectric power generation, it is available 24/7.

Except for initial sticker shock on start-up prices then, there seems little not to like in Tokyo.

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com




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Leave a comment
  • onlymho on February 09 2014 said:
    While the Pacific ring of fire provides tremendous geothermal potential, doesn't the frequent and severe ground movement associated with earthquakes and tremors represent a threat to the deep bore holes required to tap this heat? High pressure water injection has also been shown to stimulate fault slippage and increase earthquake activity. Won't the cost of repeated need to drill / redrill bore holes cause this alternative energy source to remain high even after the initial startup costs recognised?
  • Ralph on February 09 2014 said:
    Even though the start up price may be high the long term costs are cheaper. Instead of spending billions to import fuels this money can be directly injected into the Japanese economy spurring growth. Given Japan is an Island and global warming will be devastating they have no logical alternative. This should be an opportunity for Japan to spawn growth in their economy with solar geothermal and other green technologies. In the short term costs are high but this will act to jumpstart the economy. In the long term Japan will not be dependent upon the unstable world of fossil fuels.

    They could also go down the Molten Salt Reactor path but given the recent disasters no one will believe the government any longer. The US could go down the MSR path also but no funding will ever be allocated in a congress owned by big business dollars.

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